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JOURNAL OF ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR, VOL. 13, 311-324 (1992)
The multiple faces of conflict in organizations'
DEBORAH M. KOLB
Simmons College, U.S.A.
AND LINDA L. PUTNAM
Purdue University, U.S.A.
Conflict is a stubborn fact of organizational life. Although conflict is a familiar part of our experience in organizations, its value and centrality to organizational theory and functioning has waxed and waned; these changes have followed the changing winds of managerial ideology and social theory. Early social theorists, such as Marx and Weber, viewed group conflict as an inevitable outgrowth of social class and organization hierarchy. Threads of conflict and its management were woven into early managerial thought, particularly in the well known tenets of the 'classical' management and human relations theories (see Lewicki, Weiss and Lewin, this issue). These latter works provided the foil for what followed them because, rather than stress the inevitability and desirability of conflict, they emphasized harmony and cooperation in the workplace as desired and achievable ends. After several decades of dormancy, the theme of conflict resurfaced in the late 1960s as a major area of organizational research. Eschewing the cooperative, small group-oriented stance of earlier work, this scholarship focused on the structural sources of conflict, particularly that which occurred between various functional departments, between organized interest groups, and across different levels in an organization. Works by Pondy (1967), Walton and McKersie (1965), and Thomas (1976), among others, contributed to a changing view of conflict in organizations. No longer seen as dysfunctional, conflict was now a healthy process, but one that needed to be managed and contained through negotiation, structural adaptation and other forms of intervention. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, we are experiencing another significant turn in the development of conflict theory and practice (e.g. Kolb and Bartunek, 1992). This work suggests that the scope of conflict and its manifestation, as enacted in organizations, extends beyond previously existing models. Organizational conflicts are not always or even typically dramatic confrontations that achieve high visibility and publicity, such as strikes,...